The Rules of Magic

The Rules of Magic is a fleshing out of the world of Practical Magic by way of the lives of the aunts from that book – Frances and Jet – and their childhood in the New York City of the 1960s. (I’m not actually quite sure the timeline works. It makes more sense if Practical Magic takes place in the 2010s, but the book was first published in 1995. It wasn’t a big issue, but it occasionally niggled at me.)

But I liked reading about their young lives in the city, and I always like reading about adventures in Manhattan in the 1960s, before it was glammed up in the 1990s. I enjoyed their run-down townhouse on the Upper East Side, I liked their witch shop in Greenwich Village. There are more fleshed-out male characters in The Rules of Magic than there were in Practical Magic, too. It might be a more solid book, in that way.

But it doesn’t have the over-the-top-ness of the prior book. And bits of it oddly took place in Paris, which, while one of the more feminine cities in the world (and one of my favorites), isn’t necessarily a witchy city.

If you enjoyed Practical Magic, you should totally follow it up with The Rules of Magic. I’m not sure it would stand on its own, though.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

All Addie LaRue wants is to see the world. But she was born in a small town in 17th century France, where her only option is to become a housewife and have children and never leave the town she grew up in. So she makes a deal with… not quite the devil, but definitely a spirit of the night – she gets to live forever, doesn’t have to get married, but the catch is that no one remembers her. There are logistics to work out – how do you rent a room if the person you’re renting the room from forgets you the minute you leave their sight? But once she gets those under control, she has an amazing time exploring the wider world and learning and experiencing everything possible.

Fast-forward to 2014 in New York City, where Addie is at a bookstore, and someone remembers her.

I have been excited about this book for what feels like years – from the time VE Schwab announced she was working on it on her social media, to being envious of all the people who got advanced reader copies, to finally preordering it, and then actually holding it in my hands and getting to read it. And handing it over to my teenager the minute I was done with it so she could read it too.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue wasn’t perfect – I’m not convinced that one of the more important characters was developed enough, Henry’s (the person who remembers her) relationship with his family felt very one-note. But the characterization of Addie as being a person who lets most creature comforts go, as long as she has art to consume – that hit home. And the reveal of the framing of the book at the end? Masterfully done.

Look, I loved The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, and I think you might too.

The Other Paris

The Other Paris is a historical overview of the not-fashionable, not royal parts of the city. It’s a story about the working classes, the poor, the marginalized groups (like the Roma), prostitutes, thieves, political radicals, and more. It is the gritty side of Paris, from when it was a home to everyone of all social classes.

Luc Sante makes a very good, implicit case that it’s these classes that bring life and vitality to Paris, and cities in general. You don’t get vibrant and relevant culture and art and life without people from up and down the social ladder. Paris, and all cities, need everyone, not just the rich and pretty.

Recommended.

Louise Michel tells the story of Élodie Richoux, a very proper restaurant owner, who oversaw the construction of the Saint-Sulpice barricade out of the largest statues she could find in a nearby religious paraphernalia shop. When she was arrested and made to account for herself, she said, “The statues were made of stone, and those who were dying were made of flesh.”

The Other Paris by Luc Sante, page 228

Book-length poetry

In Paris with You was a unique book for me, despite its somewhat formulaic romance plot (which isn’t a bad thing!). Why?

  • It’s translated from the original French, which means that the takes on the characters are different than you might get in a book originally in English. Specifically, Eugene is allowed to be slightly depressed, and that’s totally normal.
  • The hero is named Eugene.
  • It’s a book-length poem. I read poetry infrequently enough that the language that the authors uses is different enough, more emotional and less action-oriented, that it was refreshing.
  • It’s got a lovely happy-for-now ending that leaves open a proper happy ending.

In Paris with You was a great Sunday afternoon read. Would recommend.

Slumps and books I’m not sure are any good

I’ve been in something of a reading slump lately. Including with this book. I started Paris in the Present Tense ready for its atmosphere and characters and sank into the first chapter. After that, every time I picked it up, I read slightly less and was slightly less interested in the story. Once I was halfway through the book I found myself not caring almost at all.

I don’t think it was the story, about an older man, a failed musician, who is still fit and exercises daily, whose grandson is dying and through a series of events ends up in a street fight and kills a young man (who, it should be said, was about to kill him). You root for him, but I’m not sure you should. And I didn’t care enough to explore the middle ground.

But was it the book or was it my slump? It’s hard to tell, but I can’t recommend Paris in the Present Tense, despite my initial delight with it.

An academic travel book

I picked up Paris to the Past because of The Earful Tower’s Book Club. I’m not sure I would have found it otherwise; it’s much more an academic book than a leisure read.

Robert Caro is Ina Caro’s husband – I don’t like pointing out people’s relationships to other people as a reason for them to be noteworthy, but I do think this is a note worth making because Robert Caro is famous for writing a super-in-depth biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson – it’s currently at 4 volumes and is only up to 1965-ish. So if you’re wondering how well-researched this book about touring around Paris and the Ile-de-France is, let me tell you that she has learned her research habits, with multiple visits and multiple tours of each site and fact-checking.

She arranges the book by historical era, which I thought was a great idea. How brilliant to arrange your site-seeing by era, so you can see how the architectural styles flow into each other and the history and who is related to whom makes more sense and is more memorable.

Think of Paris to the Past as research and not as a fun book to read by the beach and you’ll do much better with it. I liked it, but it’s not for everyone. I want to read more of her books.

Paris

I’m not going to lie, I am incredibly sad to be done with showing you all of my Paris photos. If I could only vacation one place for the rest of my life, it would be there.

I will continue to read far too many books about Paris and France and the history of both. I’ve recently started a tag on Goodreads just for books about those topics. And I will continue to figure out just what I love about it so I can continue to attempt to bring Paris to me.

Montmartre

Our last full day in Paris, we went for a walk around Montmartre, one of the last neighborhoods to be incorporated into Paris. It was the place where a lot of the fighting happened during The Paris Commune.

Some people claim that the government built the Sacre Coeur – this white church – after the Commune fell as a way to make it up to the neighborhood. The government never said that, but let’s just say that the timing is suspicious.

The hill that Sacre Cœur is on is the highest point in Paris, which is why it was one of the last places in the city to fall back to the federal government. Today, it’s got lovely views and big trees.

There is an ancient church next door to the Sacre Cœur, the original neighborhood church of St Pierre. It was built in the 1200s – and these columns are supposedly from the Roman Temple that once stood on the site.

St Denis was beheaded by the Romans for being Catholic partway up the Montmartre hill and then performed the miracle of picking up his head and walking for another three miles. (The Basilica of Saint-Denis was built where he finally collapsed and is the burial place of most French kings.)

Baron Hausmann, who is responsible for the way that most of the inner arrondissements look in Paris, never worked his magic in Montmartre, so the neighborhood looks very different.

This pink building was apparently a decent restaurant back in the 1930s. Now, however, it’s mostly known for being very instagrammable.

There is one remaining vineyard in Paris, and this is it!

Hiding behind the trees is one of the two remaining windmills in Paris – this neighborhood used to be full of them. This one is apparently attached to a decent restaurant; the other is the Moulin Rouge.

It was a lovely walk up and down the hill. There are a LOT of stairs at the métro stop nearest Sacre Cœur. The rest was mostly downhill, with some up thrown in for fun. This was a lovely walk, and there are plenty of delicious places to grab lunch.

Musée du quai Branly

The Musée du quai Branly is comprised of works of both historical and artistic importance from throughout the former French colonial empire.

To be completely upfront and explicit: there’s a lot about this museum that makes me uncomfortable. Were these objects taken from their cultures? Were they willingly given? Whose point of view is the museum from? That said, the objects were presented in a respectful way that told the stories of the cultures they were from, and the French government will repatriate objects if the government of the current country asks for them back. They also incorporated modern art made by people from these cultures, which I assume the museum acquired in the traditional way: by paying the artists who made the works.

All that said, I found this museum super-interesting for not-the-usual Paris museum reasons.

The museum’s plaques did directly address the controversy of showing some of the more culturally sensitive artifacts, like these decorated skulls. Unfortunately, my not-so-good French made them hard to understand.

Hair art was super common as part of decorative masks throughout many cultures. (There’s also a tradition of hair art in the West, especially as a part of Victorian mourning culture. The podcast Dressed covered it well last year.) The amount of hair and craft that it takes to make these are incredible.

This is one of the modern works created for the museum. It’s fish, but in a weird Escher-y way.

This is another of the modern works based on traditional arts.

There were a number of trunks and containers from Southeast Asia that are both super gorgeous and remind me of the same sized trunks and containers that you see from European cultures as well. Everyone likes pretty things to store and move their stuff . The patterns and textures of these were gorgeous.

After the arrival of the French and the native cultures’ conversion to Christianity, they would incorporate elements of Christianity into their already existing belief structures. This, for example, is Lucifer and one of his demons. But very much not the Lucifer you would see in any Western depiction. And I kind of love it.

And this is St Michael, who will cast Lucifer out of heaven and into hell. Those wings are super-impressive.

In short, I think this museum is good because it makes me uncomfortable, and because it forces me, a white person, to reckon with colonialism and the not-so-beautiful side of the French culture I enjoy. But it also helps me understand other cultures around the world, too. Overall, it’s worth an afternoon.

Versailles is the architecture of power

However insane and over-the-top you think the Chateau Versailles is, double it at least.

It’s lovely, don’t get me wrong. But the whole complex includes not one, not two, but three palaces, an opera house, gardens large enough to have bike rental services, and Marie Antoinette’s fake village.

This is not my most successful photo. I was trying to capture the yellow room I was standing in, the green one that followed, the blue one after that, and the red one in the distance, all with the same texture on the wallpaper. It was an interesting effect in person (there was clearly not a hallway here).

The Hall of Mirrors was very fancy and very crowded.

There is just so much gold leaf everywhere. Dial it down a notch or two. Yeesh.

The gardens are both gorgeous and ginormous. You can rent boats to take out on the Grand Bassin (the rectangle of water in the distance).

This is the Grand Trianon, one of the two smaller palaces at Versailles.

And this is the Petit Trianon, the other of the two smaller palaces at Versailles. I tend to think that if you have to build smaller palaces for people to escape the spectacle of the main one, you may have gone too big.

Can I interest you in a fake Greek temple to Artemis?

I find Marie Antoinette’s village kind of hilarious. I said it looked like Disneyland while my husband marveled at its existence in the first place.

I understand that she craved not being in the spotlight the whole time – she did not seem like the kind of person who enjoyed the fame that came with being the Queen of France. Not to mention that when the French Revolution started, she was basically blamed for everything when almost none of it was her fault.

But to build an entire village and then hire people to live there, just so you have a place to go escape…. Well, it seems very 1% of her, you know? (She literally didn’t know any different and she was not the type of person who could go live amongst the people… I have some empathy for her terrible situation, but she was also pretty tone deaf.)

(Beyond the fountain is the City of Versailles.) Anyway, Versailles is a day trip out of Paris and if you’re going to Paris you should go once. But I don’t know that you need to go more than that.